Pharmacy U

BLOGPOST: A day in the life aboard the Africa Mercy


It has been a few months since I posted on this blog.


By Sandy Hewitt BSc.Phm.

I was really thankful to have my son and daughter travel from Ontario to spend Christmas with us in Benin. Another round of plastic surgeries just finished and our cataract surgeries are now underway with 20 blind patients receiving sight every day!

Next week we begin Obstetric Fistula surgeries which are so life-changing for affected women. In the pharmacy, we are beginning to think about the next country where we will serve. If you have ever thought of volunteering as a pharmacist, I would love to talk with you! I have found this to be a really rewarding experience.

If you are wondering what it looks like on an average day on the Africa Mercy Hospital Ship, here is a typical day:

There are three pharmacists providing pharmacy services on the ship. One of these positions may be filled by a pharmacy technician. During this field service, we have had one position that has been filled for 10 months and the other position has been occupied by a new pharmacist every seven to eight weeks. Each day, we supply the OR with the medications they need during surgery and in the PACU (Post Anaesthetic Care Unit). We also supply five wards in the hospital with ward stock, as well as providing pre-packed take-home medications to patients who are being discharged. A pharmacist attends clinical rounds, reviews patient charts, and recommends adjustments as necessary. It is a wonderful experience to dance and sing with the patients, translators and caregivers on the wards in the morning!

When a crew member sees the crew physician for medication, we are a community pharmacy for our crew, filling prescriptions, and providing pharmacy services to the 450 crew on board. We also provide health information and recommendations for our small supply of over the counter medications for minor ailments, as well as answer any drug related questions by crew or by hospital staff. We have a good working relationship with the crew physician, hospital physicians, anaesthesiologists, and nurses, and frequently answer drug-related questions as they arise in the treatment of our patients, whether they are treated in the hospital or are crew on the ship. We also supply medication to the infant feeding program, rehab team, off-site dental clinic, outpatient clinic, off-site and on-ship eye clinics, and screening clinic, supplying the medication in packaging that is readable by our patients (often in French and with a pictogram).

The Mercy Ships experience has given me opportunities that I would never have back in Canada. I have met and worked with people from many nations and have developed many lasting friendships with our diverse crew. I have been able to travel in the countries that we have visited, getting to know the people of Africa and their very different cultures. I have experienced the miracle of healing and giving new hope to people who have been outcasts in their communities for many years just because they have been in need of good surgical care.

We are currently recruiting for the next field service and I encourage you to check out Mercy Ships’ volunteer opportunities to serve the people of Cameroon in 2017-18. It’s a really unique place to be a pharmacist or technician; a wonderful blend of community and hospital pharmacy. I highly recommend it! Visit our website for more information.

Sandy Hewitt is blogging regularly about her experiences as a pharmacist on the Africa Mercy ship.